— for Kwame Dawes
Crown Prince Ras Tafari brought the children
of Arba Lijoch out of the desert —
Orphans who became Ethiopian,
who sang of the Metz Yeghern, the Great Hurt;
composed, “Marsh Teferi,” the first music
Marcus Garvey heard while in audience.
I, too, have heard of, “Natural mystic
blowing/ through the air,” Ararat’s fragrance
in each word. I’m told, Babylon crashing.
Where in Kingston is the orchestral sound
of Addis Ababa? — I listen — I
listen, but the dance halls tell me nothing.
The ghosts of Van hang low in the background.
Who will sing their song? Tell their prophesy?
Arba Lijoch were a group of forty Armenian orphans who had escaped from the 1915 atrocities in Turkey, and were afterwards adopted by Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. He had met them while visiting the Armenian monastery in Jerusalem; they impressed him so much that he obtained permission from the head of the Armenian church, the Catholicos, to adopt and bring them to Ethiopia, where he then arranged for them to receive musical instruction. The Arba Lijoch arrived in the capital city, Addis Ababa, in 1924, and along with their conductor, Kevork Nalbandian, became the first official orchestra of the nation. Nalbandian also composed the music for Marsh Teferi (words by Yoftehé Negusé), which was the Imperial National Anthem from 1930 to 1974. Metz Yeghern is the Armenian word for their Great Calamity, their genocide.